A pit bull terrier has killed a five-year-old girl and seriously injured her grandmother. Police are investigating whether New Year's Eve fireworks may have scared the dog and prompted it to attack the girl.
Ellie Lawrenson was found bleeding to death in the living room of her grandmother's home in St Helens, Merseyside. A post-mortem examination revealed she died of "severe head and neck injuries", police said last night.
Ellie was being looked after by her grandmother, Jackie Simpson, while her parents went out to celebrate New Year's Eve.
They returned to collect her after a few hours but Ellie asked to remain with her grandmother overnight, so at 3.40am they left for home, in Warrington, Cheshire. At 4.20am Mrs Simpson, 46, heard the child screaming. She wrestled the dog, Ruben, from her granddaughter, suffering bites to her arms and legs as she dragged it into a run outside her home. She was in hospital last night with serious injuries.
Mrs Simpson called an ambulance and police officers arrived 10 minutes later. It is not clear whether Ellie was asleep when the dog pounced and police have not disclosed what injuries she suffered.
"The paramedics did what they could but Ellie died at the scene," said Superintendent Jon Ward of Merseyside Police.
Police concluded that the dog could not be safely removed and it was shot.
It is believed it was owned by Ellie's uncle, Keele Simpson. Neighbours said Mr Simpson, known locally as "Binger", has owned a number of dogs, including Alsatians and Rottweilers.
Although police have never been called to the property before, local opinions vary about the conduct of Mr Simpson's dogs . One man, whose four children often played with Ellie, said a previous larger dog had been a problem in the neighbourhood.
But another neighbour, Phil Davies, 20, said: "The dog was as soft as a puppy. I can only think that the noise, the flashes and bangs, from the fireworks have triggered the attack."
Police and council officials are investigating if the dog had a history of violence.
The tragedy comes three months after a five-month-old baby was mauled to death by Rottweilers above a pub in Leicester.
Ryan O'Meara, editor of the dog magazine K9, has called for a change in the law. "I would like to see a theory test as you have for driving. To own a dog, you would have to show that you are committed and know about dogs," he said.
Ellie's 24-year-old mother and her partner were too distraught to speak to police officers. But neighbours spoke affectionately about Ellie. Dorothy Watkinson said: "I've seen her at the gateway with [the dog that killed her], stroking it. It never turned on her."
* The killing in St Helens is the latest in a string of horrific dog attacks in recent months. Five-month-old Cadey-Lee Deacon was killed in September when she was attacked by two Rottweiler dogs in a pub in Leicester. Just three days later, two-year-old Harvey Lawrence had surgery for severe lacerations after being savaged by a Rottweiler in West Sussex. In another Rottweiler attack, 12-year-old Kerry Neary was mauled in Birmingham in September. In late November a three-year-old Warwickshire girl was taken to hospital in an air ambulance after an attack by a family dog.
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